My grandfather died of colorectal cancer when my mother was 13 years old, a catastrophic event that tore his family apart.1 When I was a child and even a young adult, his death seemed to me more an abstraction than a tragedy that unfolded slowly, devastating people I love.
Things change. In my 20s, I saw up close what this illness does to its middle-aged victims and their families. In my 30s, I watched my father-in-law suffer in much the same way before saying good-bye to his daughters and grandchildren. And after decades of watching young faces turn slowly into old ones, I started to see, in my mother, a girl who lost the most important man in her life just as she was about to enter high school, a girl who was then uprooted and sent to live 200 miles from home.